Security scare at Palm Springs International Airport delays travelers
Airport director on terminal evacuation: Palm Springs International Airport executive director Tom Nolan addresses the media on the evacuation of the terminal on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.
The Desert Sun
Passengers sit outside of the terminal after suspicious items in a bag sent through the Palm Springs International Airport security checkpoint prompted an evacuation on Friday. / Brian Indrelunas, The Desert Sun
Everyday items combined to look like something sinister Friday, causing a 4.5-hour shutdown of the security checkpoint at Palm Springs International Airport, officials said.
“It was just the way they were in the bag,” said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.
A Salt Lake City-bound passenger’s carry-on bag caught a TSA officer’s attention when it was X-rayed about 5:45 a.m. and “jumped out … as an obvious threat,” he said.
“He’s seen hundreds of thousands of bags,” Melendez said of the nine-year veteran. “When someone like that sees something, it kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
TSA and airport officials moved passengers from the security line and ticket counters to baggage claim and briefly sent them outside the terminal. Those already at gates and new arrivals were kept there until the terminal fully reopened about 10:15 a.m.
A bomb squad found the bag’s contents to be harmless, and no arrests were made.
During the evacuation of the terminal, about five morning flights still took off and all landings continued, said Tom Nolan, the airport’s executive director.
Nolan estimated about 200 passengers missed those early flights, and many departures were delayed for hours, but most took the wait in stride.
“We can’t really get upset about it,” said Yolanda Rhoads, 56, of Tempe, Ariz., who was waiting to fly to San Francisco. “Better safe than sorry.”
“It’s proof that security is tight everywhere,” said Rhoads’ cousin, Teresa Espinoza, 56, of Indio. “TSA doesn’t mess around.”
Airport employees handed out bottled water to keep people cool, and SunLine Transit Agency brought in three buses to provide an air-conditioned place for passengers to wait.
“You really don’t want to have to evacuate when it’s the mid-90s and 100s outside,” Nolan said. “It’s not like a Midwestern airport where people can get off and stand around for two hours.”
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